OPDMD: Coming to a Trail Near You?

What's the right answer for mobility devices?

by Stuart Macdonald, Trail Consultant, American Trails

It has been almost a year since the Department of Justice (DOJ) created a stir in the trails community about “other power-driven mobility devices” (OPDMD). While the rules had been open to public comment during the previous year, many of us shared the same thought: “do they really mean what I think they mean?” And yes, the DOJ rules mean that anything with a motor that can be driven, regardless of size or horsepower, is allowed on your trails and open areas if it is driven by a person who says they have a mobility related disability.

You may not have noticed a sudden surge of electric ATVs or monster trucks on your nature trail. We have seen a rather modest number of trail assessment and policy documents, and I suspect many people are hoping that somebody, somewhere, will come up with “the right answer.” But trail managers who don’t address this issue are open to a very wide interpretation of what a mobility device can be.

American Trails hosted a webinar on OPDMD last spring with Janet Zeller of the U.S. Forest Service helping trail managers understand the rule. The result of 700 people listening and talking about this issue was a deluge of questions. With more help from Janet, we compiled a huge Q and A list. But there were still many questions that simply had no clear answer or precedent in other ADA law. So the DOJ received a list of the toughest problem areas, like animal-powered vehicles, federal funding implications, trail gates, requiring permits, and much more.

We have not yet heard answers from DOJ, who have also had inquiries from many other people concerning their own specific situations. However, part of their job is to help make sense out of what many would call “unintended consequences” of the OPDMD rule. So we have been assured that we’ll be hearing from DOJ in the form of some technical assistance in the not too distant future. When the DOJ issues that guidance we will alert you and make copies available. This is an opportunity for land managers to take a fresh look at their policies and decision-making processes on trail use in general– and to see how people with disabilities might be better accommodated.

– Stuart Macdonald, National Trails Training Partnership program manager for American Trails

(Please see state and local policies on the use of OPDMD's - American Trails Staff 2018)

About the Author

Stuart Macdonald spent 19 years as Colorado's State Trails Coordinator. He is the editor of American Trails Magazine. During 1998-99, he represented State Trail Administrators on the national committee that proposed regulations for accessible trails. He chaired the National Recreational Trails Committee, which advised the Federal Highway Administration in the first years of the Recreational Trails Program. Stuart grew up in San Diego and his main outdoor interest besides trails is surfing. He has a BA in English from San Francisco State and a Masters in Landscape Architecture from Utah State.

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